This late afternoon edition of “Fo’ with the Foes” — Philadunkia’s advanced scouting series which with the help of an accomplished journalist from around the NBA beat or blog world, previews upcoming 76ers opponents — features tonight’s foes, the new look and suddenly hot (won 6 of last 7) Houston Rockets.
The breakdown for tonight’s match-up with the Rockets is pretty simple in our eyes. If the Sixers come out and play like they did on the road vs. the Chicago Bulls on Monday — quick and energized start, tough defense throughout and efficient on offense – they win this game. For the Rockets tonight will be game 3 of a three game road trip and the second game in a back-to-back set. Additionally, the Rockets have a home game looming on Friday vs. in state rival San Antonio. In NBA speak what all of that means is Houston should mentally already be packed up and ready to head back to Texas. So a fast start by the 7-6 tonight should suck the life out of the Rockets early and thus they should go down without a fight.
If however, the Sixers come out tonight and play like they did at home against Sacto on Sunday — lackadaisical start, ole’ defense and silly turnovers on offense — this Rockets team is athletic enough and skilled enough to do more then hang around all night. Houston is much more talented and better coached then the Kings, so if the Sixers play like they did on Sunday, the Rockets will steal an easy win down at the WFC.
Here’s two things to be on the look out for tonight. The first is based on the fact that Houston sits two games back of the 8thand final playoff spot in the West. They are a young, talented and winning team (39-35), but maybe more importantly a desperate squad for which every night is a playoff game. That’s not a good combination for opponents and the Sixers can not even remotely consider taking this game lightly.
The second item is Kyle Lowry. The former Cardinal Dougherty product who starred as Villanova’s point guard is on fire of late — 20 & 8 per night in March and a double-double (16 & 10) last night vs. NJN. Lowry will be playing in front of all his friends and family as well as his former college coach Jay Wright tonight, so there’s no doubt he’ll be looking to put on a show. He’s certainly has enough skill and right now Lowry is hot enough and confident enough that if he gets going, Lowry could carry the Rockets to a W over the Sixers. Just to be safe, we suggest that Jrue Holiday keep him under wraps all night.
For a little more insight into the Rockets team the Sixers face tonight, we turn to our man Eric Todd from red94.net to answer two questions on the Rockets from us here at Philadunkia as well as provide us with two points of analysis on this HOU squad from an insider’s perspective.
Philadunkia : The Rockets have played much better since the Battier trade. So is the improved play all about the trade or are there other things that have changed as well that have led to this recent stretch of solid play?
Eric Todd @ red94.net : This is an interesting question, one that I think speaks to the role of emotion in sports. Some have called the moves the Rockets made at the trade deadline ‘addition by subtraction’, but the problem with such a label is that it implies the team traded players who’s production was hurting its overall success. For Battier especially, this seems inappropriate. In addition to being a team captain, he shot almost 53% for the month of January, and, while his defense may have slipped slightly over the past two seasons, he can still be counted among the better defenders in the league. Trading Aaron Brooks might more closely approximate this distinction as he had been shooting a career-worst 33% since returning from injury in December, but this, too, seems somewhat insignificant as he only played around 20 minutes a game during that stretch.
The greater effect of the trades, I think, has been the establishment of a more cohesive team identity. Trading away Battier and Brooks were moves that decidedly handed the reigns to the younger players, particularly Chase Budinger and Kyle Lowry. Budinger began the season in an abysmal shooting slump, and instead of trading him at the deadline or burying him at the end of the bench, the Rockets showed confidence their young small forward by making him a starter, a confidence that was apparently not misplaced as Budinger has increased his production dramatically ever since. The real story for the Rockets, though, in my opinion has been Kyle Lowry. The month of March has seen Lowry hit career high water marks in every measurable statistic: 48% from the field, 40% from three, 20 points, 8.3 assists, and 5.3 rebounds a game.
We could argue all day (as some of us have) about the secrets to the Rockets recent success, whether it’s just dumping some useless old parts or instilling confidence in the parts the team already had, but whatever the cause, as fans, we’re certainly happy with the effects.
Philadunkia : From everything we have read, the Rockets played one of their best games of the year in Miami the other night and lost a heartbreaker to the Heat. How do expect them to respond in their next realgame (Sorry Nets) vs. the Sixers Wednesday night?
Eric Todd @ red94.net : The loss to the Heat was a tough one. Not so much because it was against the Heat, but more so because Memphis beat San Antonio on Sunday as well, stretching Memphis’s 1½ game lead to 2½. With only 8 games to go, that makes nearly every game the Rockets play from here on out essentially a must-win. As to how the players will respond, I don’t think it will affect their sense of urgency. The Rockets have been playing as if every game is their last since the All Star break, and I don’t expect that to change now.
With that said, I think this game against the 76ers looks to be one of the toughest left on the Rockets remaining schedule. The 76ers are young and deep at every position. With Elton Brand returning to form, Iguodala going mini-Lebron on a nightly basis, the one-two-punch of Jrue Holiday and Lou Williams, and the recent emergence of Jodie Meeks, the Rockets have their work cut out for them. Philadelphia handed the Rockets its final loss before the All-Star break, shooting 55% from the floor and outrebounding Houston by double figures. In the last week Philly has notched wins against both the Hawks and most recently the Bulls as they fight for position in the uber-competitive East. This game is essential for the Rockets’ playoff hopes, but they’ll have to fight hard on the boards and hit their threes to get the win they so desperately need.
Two Points of Analysis from Eric Todd @ red94.net :
1. Lost in the excitement of the Rockets recent winning percentage and Kyle Lowry’s and Chuck Hayes’ triple-doubles last week may be the play of rookie Patrick Patterson. With Luis Scola out for a few games with a knee sprain earlier this month Patterson stepped into the starting lineup and recorded double-doubles in two of his three starts, most notably an 18 point, 12 rebound, 4 block effort in a win over the Boston Celtics on March 18th.
Coming out of college Patterson was overshadowed by his more highly-touted teammates at Kentucky (maybe somewhat unfairly as he averaged 18 and 9 on 60% shooting his sophomore year), but this season he’s stepped right in and contributed well from the early goings.
Patterson’s a heady player with sticky hands who defends well and never seems to be out of position. He won’t overwhelm you with his post moves, but he’s athletic, has a nice touch around the basket, and can hit an open 15-footer. With a tidy 16.72 PER and a couple of cool dunks already on Youtube, Patrick Patterson is definitely someone to keep an eye on moving forward.
2. One reason that Patrick Patterson has found more playing time recently is that Rick Adelman has stopped giving minutes to Brad Miller. While I did just argue that the team didn’t necessarily
gain anything by losing players recently, Brad Miller’s absence from the court has been a decidedly positive turn of events for the Houston Rockets.
And while I will definitely miss Miller’s headband, sweatbands, and cool, slow-motion fist-pump, I won’t miss nights like this one(http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oU8jICYLUgo).
Ok, that’s actually somewhat untrue as well. I will absolutely miss his defeated brow-furrow and frustrated hands-on-hips-after-just-kicking-the-metaphorical-dirt body language when he air-balls an open three. And I will certainly miss watching him shuffle down the court looking for a high-five after he hits an open cutter with an entry pass from the high post. I wonder if we can just get him a couple of minutes in the second quarter of games when they have a comfortable lead. I’d like that, just to see him run a little. Is that too much to ask?
Anyway, sorry for the digression. The Rockets are a better team without Brad Miller, whether I like it or not.